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The MTA Says the Police are Authorized to Inspect Your Bag But Do You Have the Right to Refuse?

Posted by Tony Gillen on May 30, 2019 10:51:40 AM

MTA girl


That is an excellent question. The police have a responsibility to protect the public from threats of violence. American citizens have the right to go about their daily business without undue harassment. International terrorism poses threats to public safety. We are, therefore, in a situation where the police have authority, and the public has rights.

What are the options? What may happen if:

  • You enter the MTA subway system.
  • You are stopped for a random bag search.
  • You do not want to comply.

A Little Background

Terrorists killed and injured people on the London Underground (subway system), and there have been terrorist bomb deaths in Boston and other American cities. New York City's Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) carries about 4.5 million passengers a day who enter and exit the subway system via almost 470 stations, many of which have multiple entry points. There is the potential for dangerous action by terrorists and other criminals.

The City gave police the authority to inspect MTA passengers' bags in 2005. Before the practice began, the NYPD recruited the help of 12 explosive experts from City airports. In 2017, The Right to Know Act was passed, giving citizens certain rights when stopped above ground. Many New Yorkers assume the same rights apply to the MTA. Let us now look at the stop-and-search practice in the City's subway system.

MTA Bag Searches

  1. Do the police have the authority to stop MTA passengers, at random, for a bag search? Yes.
  2. Must the police officer issue a "right to know" card as if you were above ground? No.
  3. Do you have a right to refuse a bag search? Yes. You may be carrying fragile possessions, private and confidential files, or you may just not want to have your bag searched.
  4. How should you respond to a request to search? Politely and calmly is the best way. A police officer must make a snap judgment as to why this person is refusing a search, so polite and calm will help to keep everything smooth. Becoming angry or frustrated may signal something to the officer, and to other passengers, other than you just want to be ignored.
  5. How should you expect the officer to respond to your refusal? The officer should accept what you say and allow you to leave the subway by the closest exit.
  6. May you continue your MTA journey after refusing a bag check? No.
  7. If the officer has a specific reason, other than a random stop, to search your bag, it will be explained in accordance with normal police standards. If you still refuse, you risk being arrested for obstructing a police officer from carrying out their duty.

The Takeaway

If it is purely a random stop-and-search encounter, you may refuse but must leave the subway by the closest exit. If you have questions or if you believe you have been treated unfairly by a police officer, please click this link to contact us so we can discuss your issue and agree with you how best to move forward.

Sources Used:

Right to Know Act:

Officer's right to arrest:

City police used TSA experts:


Topics: commute, Safety, MTA, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, bag search

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